Thou shalt not

The season of Pentecost, according to many liturgical traditions, stretches from Pentecost Sunday—50 days after Easter—all the way to the Feast of Christ the King, which marks the end of the church year. Christians generally regard Pentecost as the birth of the church, marked by the descent of the Holy Spirit that emboldened the hiding disciples to go public with their faith.

In some Jewish traditions, however, the celebration—known as Shavuot—is associated with the covenants God made with Noah post-Flood (Genesis 8-9), Abraham and the Israelites regarding a new homeland (Genesis 15), Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19-24), and David concerning his kingship (2 Samuel 7). It’s also called the “Feast of Oaths.”

As a child in Catholic schools, I prepared for a “good confession” by performing what was called an “examination of conscience.” This primarily consisted of reviewing the Ten Commandments (as summarized in Exodus 20) and keeping a tally of how many I’d broken since my last confession. As a third- grader the sins outlined in the commandments were very exotic—adultery, murder, and of course “coveting your neighbor’s ass.” (I wasn’t sure what it meant, but it was fun to say.) My primary “sin” as a third-grader was a high recidivism rate when it came to failing to honor my father and mother. Despite the rocky start, the regular practice of an examination of conscience stayed with me, deepening and becoming more serious as an adult.

ONE PRACTICE I developed over the years is to write my own “examen,” as the Jesuits call it. I root it in the Ten Commandments, but it’s tailored to hold me more accountable to my peculiar tendencies to stray.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2006
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